The Australian Army Cadets is a leading national youth development organisation. Cadets allows young people from 12 to 17 to experience a taste of life in the Australian Defence Force and to develop leadership and life skills that will stand them in good stead no matter what path they choose. The Australian Army Cadets adopt the values of the Australian Defence Force to empower youth to achieve their potential, values like service to country and community; the courage to say and do the right thing, especially in the face of adversity; respect for others; integrity of character; a spirit of excellence; and a willingness to strive to achieve every single day.

In Indi we have two cadet groups: 37 ACU Albury-Wodonga, based at the Gaza Ridge Barracks in Bandiana, and 33 ACU, based in the Beersheba Barracks at Wangaratta.

Over the last two years, our young people have had a pretty rough go of things. The impact of lockdowns has been hard on all of us, but for young people having two years of school significantly interrupted is a seriously big deal. For those of us in Victoria especially, there have been so many pivotal moments of growing up that young people have missed out on, not to mention the simple joys of being young: playing sport, exploring our beautiful natural surrounds in north-east Victoria, spending time with friends.

As we start to come out of lockdowns and start looking towards life on the other side of this acute phase of the pandemic, programs like the cadets will be needed more than ever. Coming together as a group for activities like camping, navigation, first aid, watermanship, abseiling, drill and ceremony, the cadets gives young people a fantastic opportunity to work together to develop resilience and character and vital life skills. These are the types of group activities we’ve largely been unable to do these last two years, and these are precisely the types of skills and attributes that our young people need as we look to emerge into a world a little less certain than the one we knew a few years ago.

In a place like Indi, which has a large defence community, programs like cadets are also important to connect young people with the significant local defence and veterans culture. The Bandiana Barracks, which hosts the 37 ACU, is a significant presence in Wodonga. I had the great joy of visiting there recently. There are many hundreds of families across Albury-Wodonga who originally moved to the region because they had a family member stationed at the barracks. For the young men and women of the 37 ACU, to see the families thriving in the community, the opportunities, the jobs, the careers and the service is a fantastic thing for them.

At the Bandiana Barracks, when I was there last week, I saw advanced manufacturing, a logistics hub and a training centre. For young people to understand these careers exist, they see this through the cadets, and I think it’s an extraordinary opportunity for them. The fact that, through cadets, our young people can be exposed to this world is a wonderful thing not just for them but for our broader community. We just heard from our previous speakers that we need to do everything we can to boost recruitment into the cadets.

I’d like to thank all the people in the 37 ACU and the 33 ACU for giving our young people an opportunity to grow and develop. I’d like to celebrate all the young people in Indi who sign up for the challenge. I love to see you on memorial days. I feel great pride in you. You are our real hope for the future. Young Australians have shown remarkable resilience throughout this pandemic, and I know, when I see you, that our country is in very, very good hands with this next generation of young leaders.

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